“So is this a 40-minute whale?” my friend asked after we finished a late lunch in the Brady District on a warm Sunday afternoon in November.
She was referring to that it would take us 20 minutes to Catoosa, 20 minutes back to Tulsa, just to see the famed Blue Whale of Catoosa, one of the most recognizable landmarks on the Mother Road. I bit my lip. Pictures had made it pretty obvious that the pond was a decrepit water hole, but she raised a point — we were in town from Oklahoma City and had only so much time left before needing to head back, especially since we were considering visiting the aquarium in Jenks. “Are you sure you’d rather see a fake whale as opposed to real fishes?”
Yes. Route 66 lore and landmarks have fascinated me since my moving to Oklahoma in 2012. Did you know Oklahoma has the most of its original Route 66 route left? Sure, I-40 has replaced most of Route 66 further out west, but Oklahoma provides those traveling through plenty of opportunity for Mother Road nostalgia. I had visited several landmarks, but at the time, The Blue Whale was yet to be checked off my to-see list. And yes, Nerdship, I happily passed up a trip to the aquarium for a trip to this unique gem!
The Blue Whale was built in 1972 by Hugh Davis as an anniversary present for his wife who happened to love whales. Hugh initially conceived the Blue Whale as a place for his family to spend time; however, he eventually opened it for public consumption. The Blue Whale was a popular spot for kids to swim, play, and picnic up until 1988, when Hugh ended closing the attraction. Ol’ Blue, as he’s called on his website, went unnoticed and left vulnerable to weather and decay up until the late ’90s when refurbishing efforts began.
Even though Ol’ Blue has been refurbished, the pond held true to the images I had seen — dark, murky, and dare I say it, a wee bit decrepit, but it didn’t take away from the charm and the kitsch of the bright smiling Blue Whale. Leaves whipped around the edges of his broad smile. I could imagine this roadside attraction being an ideal summer spot, but it was still just as fun in the autumn. The oranges, reds, and browns of autumn foliage were actually a lovely contrast to the vibrant shade of Ol’ Blue. My friends and I laughed and laughed as we took pictures with the Blue Whale, popping our heads out of the slides (and thankfully not accidentally sliding down them!).
It was easy to see why this was a popular destination for kids. Inside the whale is a ladder that took you the second “level” that was creaky and admittedly we worried about falling through the floor. Ol’ Blue not only has the requisite blow-hole, but many window spaces dotting his head’s side.
We were not the only ones there to enjoy this kitschy roadside attraction. There was a couple and a photographer there, who spent most of their time on the tip-top of Ol’ Blue’s tail. They took quite some time taking pics, so we got creative while waiting for our turn to climb up Ol’ Blue’s tail.
Once the others had decided they had enough, it was our turn to climb the tail. My friend Ofi went first, and I followed suit. I quickly regretted it because there is NO RAILING! It’s pretty much you and a 10 foot drop to the pond. Despite my smile in the below pic, what’s going on in my head consisted of “dontfalloffdontfalloffFORTHELOVEOFGODDONTFALLOFF!!!!”
Even though kids dived into the pond using the tail in the past, there was no diving to be had here.
Yep, you can no longer swim at The Blue Whale, but that’s ok – the pond is not really the most appealing place for swimming.
Despite this, the view of the pond and the surrounding area was quite fantastic from sitting on top of Ol’ Blue’s tail. It was easy to imagine children from years ago laughing and playing around Ol’ Blue.
So, yes, it was indeed a “40 minute whale” and then some. It’s a unique attraction that can be found nowhere else and was built of out of love. Sure, it’s not spectacular, beautiful, or awe-inspiring, but The Blue Whale is a little slice of life from days passed left for us to enjoy.